Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Kakiage" tempura, two kinds かきあげ 2種類

When I posted soft shell crab tempura, I used a new recipe for the tempura batter which included Vodka. Soft shell crab tempura, however, was not the best way to assess the tempura crust. As promised, I did another test with "kakiage" tempura. Kakiage is tempura made of small pieces of ingredients bound by batter/crust. I made two kinds of kakiage.   

Sakura-ebi and onion kakiage: I used boiled and dried Sakura-ebi 桜 海老 which I kept in the freezer and thinly sliced red onion. To extract moisture from the onion, I mixed the onion slices with cake flour and a small pinch of salt. After 10 minutes, moisture came out and the flour sticks to the onion. I lifted the onion and shook it slightly to remove excess flour and mixed it with the sakura-ebi (whatever amount you like) before adding it to the tempura batter.

Fresh corn kakiage: This is the same as the one I posted before. We had fresh corn (not locally grown for sure). I removed the kernels by slicing them off the cob with a knife.

Tempura batter: This is the same as I posted before and based on the recipe from America's test kitchen. To briefly reiterate, I made the wet component by mixing water (or seltzer water, but I do not think this makes any difference) and Vodka in 1:1 radio. For two cups total, I added one whole egg, beaten. (The amount of egg should be proportional to the amount of water and vodka so reduce or increase the egg accordingly. For example, is the amount of water and vodka is reduced by half then use half and egg. The dry component is a mixture of cake flour and potato starch in 4-5:1 ratio.

First put the dry ingredient in a bowl and add the wet component to mix. The consistency I was looking for is like a runny pancake batter. For the fresh corn kakiage, I added corn and mixed in the batter. The amount of the batter is just enough to coat all the corn kernels and a bit more. Using a spoon, I put the mixture into hot oil (as usual peanut oil, 370F or so), turned over once during the frying. For the red onion and Sakura-ebi, I mixed them into the batter and just using cooking chop sticks, I put the mixture into the hot oil. I tried to make both kakiage into a sort of flat disk. Again, I turned it over once during the frying.

The results? Well, this new batter does create a lighter and crispier crust, although the difference is not gigantic. Both the traditional and Vodka batters produced good kakiage. As you can see we were in portion control mode here.

A few days later, I made a small "Kakiage donburi" かき揚げ丼 as a "shime" 〆 or ending dish from the leftover. I baked the kakiage in a 400F preheated toaster oven for 7-8 minutes placing the kakiage on a perforated metal tray over another deeper metal tray so that any excess oil which exuded from kakiage dripped down into the lower tray. The baking made the edges a bit dark but made the kakiage crispy and hot again.

I made a sauce with dashi, mirin, and soy sauce. I made it rather strong in taste but small in amount. I heated the mixture in a sauce pan and poured it over the kakiage and rice. I garnished it with blanched broccolini. For leftover kakiage, this was pretty good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pork belly, baby bok choy, scallion stir fry 豚の三枚肉、青梗菜、葱の炒め物

When I bought pork belly from the newly opened grocery store in our neighborhood, I made stewed pork belly or "kakuni" 角煮. I took a small block of the more meaty part with alternating fat and red meat layers and sliced it thinly to make "bara-niku" バラ肉 or "sanmai-niku" 三枚肉. This is a very common cut of pork in Japan. It was a really small amount and I made this starter dish one evening from it.

I cut scallions on a slant in 1 inch lengths (5, white part), baby bok choy (1, core removed, white root and stem parts cut into strips with green parts separated).

I marinated the pork in sake and soy sauce (1:1 ratio) with freshly ground ginger root (1/2 tsp) for 30 minutes or so.

In a hot wok on high flame, I added vegetable oil (1 tbs) with a splash of dark sesame oil. I stir fried the scallion and white part of the bok choy for several minutes. I removed the vegetables and set aside. I seared the pork slices on both sides (1 minute each), put back the vegetables, and stirred for 1 more minute. I added the green parts of the bock choy and added mirin (2 tsp), soy sauce (2 tsp) and freshly grated ginger (1/2 tsp) and very quickly braised. After I removed the wok from the heat, I added freshly ground white pepper.

This has very familiar taste and pork belly really adds to this simple dish. Since I cooked the stalk and green parts of bok choy in different timing, all came out nicely. The fresh ginger note and slight heat (from the white pepper and ginger) were also nice. A perfect Izakaya's "otoshi" dish as well as good for Bento or a Japanese lunch box. We had our house sake Yaegaki "mu" 八重垣 "無" in a hand cut colored glass tumbler with a rabbit motif; one gazing at cherry blossoms and the other watching fireworks, which came from Kitaichi glass 北一硝子 in Otaru 小樽. We should have gotten the autumn and winter ones as well.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Baby artichokes sauté with Pancetta and olives ベィビィアーティチョークのパンチェッタとオリーブの炒めもの

We posted a baby artichokes dish before. Since it is (was) the season for baby artichokes, we got another dozen. As I understand it, baby artichokes come from exactly the same plant as regular artichokes but they are the smaller buds which grow on the lower branches. This time, I did the cleaning and cooking of the artichokes rather than my wife. I decided to make sautéed artichokes with pancceta and olives mostly because we had pancceta.

Preparing the baby artichokes: I used my usual quick cleaning method. I just removed the outer petals until I exposed the inner petals which were only top 1/3 green. I cut off the top 1/3 of the green parts. Using a small paring knife, I cut off the end of the stem and peeled the skin. I also quickly cleaned the remnants of the outer petals around the base. Unless it is very small, I cut the artichokes in half. I removed any chokes that may have developed using the tip of the knife. It sounds complicated and tedious but once you get used to this process, it goes fairly quickly. I threw the cleaned artichokes into acidulated water (water plus lemon juice) to prevent discoloration. 

Pre-cooking: I boiled the cleaned baby artichokes for 15 minutes in salted water (image below left). You can see one with undeveloped choke (right of the right image below) and one with the choke which was removed (left of the right image below).

Sautéing: In a frying pan, I added olive oil (1 tbs) and finely chopped pancceta (3 slices) on medium low flame. I rendered the fat from the pancceta and made it brown and crispy by sautéing for several minutes. I set the pancceta aside on a paper towel lined plate. In the same pan I added shallot (1 medium, finely chopped) and garlic (one clove finely chopped) on medium-low flame. After a few minutes, I added the baby artichokes, olives (I used an assortment of black olives, some requiring pitting). I sauteed for a few more minutes and added white vermouth (or white wine, 1-2 tbs) and kept braising until the liquid was almost all gone. I added salt, black pepper and chopped parsley. I served it topped with the crispy pancceta and shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

This is a good accompaniment for wines; either white or red. We had this with Robert Young Estate Winery Red Winery Road Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This is a middle of the road decent cab--very good if not spectacular.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Parsnip potage パースニップポタージュ

We like to have soup or some kind of side dish we can eat on a weekday. We make these dishes in quantity on the weekend and then use it the rest of the week. My wife suggested we clean up parsnips パースニップ* in our fridge by making some kind of soup or potage. She said she would like to have pieces of carrot in the potage to provide texture and color. Without further detailed instructions from her, this is what I came up with (not based on any recipe).

(*Digression Alert!: I did not know this root vegetable until I came to the U.S.. I am not sure this is available in Japan. Parsnip is know as the most favorite food of Gub-gub the pig in Dr. Dolittle's story. I read the entire series as a kid. It was translated by Masuji Ibuse 井伏鱒二 into Japanese. But I do not remember how he translated "parsnip" into Japanese. Japanese Wiki states "オランダボウフウ" to be a Japanese name for parsnip but that does not help most Japanese readers.)

I used parsnips (6), peeled and cut into small cubes, onion (1 medium, finely chopped), fennel bulb (1/3 chopped, I just happened to have this leftover and is optional), celery (3 stalks finely chopped), garlic (2 cloves, finely chopped) and potatoes (2 medium, Yukon gold, peeled and cubed). 

In a large pot on medium flame, I added light olive oil (4 tbs) and sauteed the above except for potatoes and parsnips for several minutes or until the onion became semi-transparent. I then added the parsnips and potatoes. I poured in low-sodium Swanson chicken broth (32 oz), bay leaves (3) and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft. I then pureed it using an immersion blender. I added light cream (1/2 cup) toward the end of pureeing.

Meanwhile, I cooked carrot (4 medium, peeled and cut into small round or half round) in the chicken broth with bay leaves (2) and black pepper corns (4-5).

I tasted the potage and added salt and fresh ground white pepper (I did not use black pepper to prevent black specks from floating in the white potage).

To serve, I added the cooked carrot and chopped parsley as a garnish. Parsnips have nice sweetness with a very distinctive flavor. The potatoes and cream added silky smoothness to the potage. Since carrot and parsnip are "relatives", this combination worked very well. Very satisfying and unctuous soup/potage to start and my wife was impressed with this parsnip potage. I said I could make a similar potage from "daikon" 大根 but she did not encourage me in that endeavor--can't understand why.

(The following was added on April 22, 2012)

Parsnip potage Version2

This is another variation of parsnip soup. One weekend, my wife decided to make another version of parsnip potage. The addition of apples made the potage very good and different from the original.

2 packages of parsnips cut into pennies (about 12 parsnips)
2 onions diced
2 apples diced
1 potato peeled and diced
1 1/2 Package of Low-sodium and non-fat chicken broth (Swanson bland, one package=32oz)

 sweat the onions, add the parsnips and potatoes and chicken broth. Cook until tender. Just before pureeing add the apple and let them cook a few minutes. Puree. Lovely fresh flavor. The apple and parsnips go well together.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sake-steamed chicken with togarashi soy sauce mayonnaise 酒蒸し鶏肉の唐辛子醤油マヨネーズ

This is just another way to serve "sakamushi" 酒蒸し or sake steamed chicken. I just sliced sakamushi chicken breast and served it with a mixture of 7 flavored Japanese red pepper flakes 七味唐辛子, soy sauce and mayonnaise (actually I did not mix it, you need to mix it before dipping.) It looks like lots of red pepper but mayo dampens the heat.

This mayonnaise concoction reminds me of my old drinking days in Susukino 薄野, Sapporo. Many bars served grilled semi-dried "Komai*" fish with this mayo. I remember in the bars which had hostesses, they carefully removed the meat from the fish and dipped it in the mayonnaise concoction and fed you (you paid dearly for the attention, of course).

Komai こまい is a small fish which belongs to the cod family. The best season is in the coldest time of the winter in Hokkaido and traditionally fished by a net under the ice (after breaking the surface ice, of course). Thus, the kanji letter for this fish is 氷下魚 meaning under-the-ice fish. This appears to be rather peculiar to Hokkaido and was (at least when I was there) one of the popular drinking snacks in bars and drinking places in Sapporo. This is not unlike shishamo ししゃも and Hokkadoian (or Hokkaidoites?, an erudite English speaker will have to tell me which.) appear to like small semi-dried fish as a drinking snack.

In any case, I do not think I can find "komai" around here but this mayo concoction worked well with sakamush chicken.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ginger pork cutlet 豚肉のショウガ味カツレツ

This is a hybrid between ginger pork and pork cutlet.  I just came up with this dish thinking it  would go well with a drink.  This could be a main dish if you serve a larger amount with veggies and a starch. This dish is also perfect for bentou 弁当 or Japanese lunch box.

I used the trimmings from a pork tenderloin which was pounded very thin. I marinated it with sake and soy sauce (3 tbs each or 1:1 ratio) and grated ginger (1 tsp). I purposely did not make the marinade sweet at all but you could replace half the amount of sake with mirin if you like slightly sweet. I coated the individual pieces with the marinade and then put them in a sealable container and let them marinade in the refrigerator for several hours. 

I could have sauteed the pork in the classic "sougayaki" 生姜焼き style but, at the very last moment, I decided to make it sightly different. After I removed the excess marinade from the pork using paper towels, I dredged it with potato starch or katakuriko 片栗粉. I added light olive oil (slightly more than for sauteing) in a frying pan on medium heat, and fried the pork (1-2 minutes per side) until both sides were crisp and brown. I added more oil as needed to cook all the pieces in small batches.

The resulting dish had a nice crispy crust with bright ginger and soy sauce flavor. Since it is highly seasoned, no need for any sauce. This turned out to be exactly how I intended; a cross between shouga-yaki and pork cutlet. Any drink will go with this. We had this with Casali di Bibbiano Argante Toscana Rosso Red Blend 2006 (This was our last bottle of this wine). If you are a white wine drinker, Chardonnay would be a good choice. Of course, beer and sake would be nice as well.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Japanese sake "Juyondai" 14th generation 十四代 別撰純米吟醸 播州山田錦

As I mentioned before, most of the sake imported from Japan come from large scale producers. Small-scale production sake, especially those with cult followings, are difficult to find here. Even in Japan, there is some hype about the likes of Juyondai sake which maintains the aura of being a special, cult and difficult to find sake. One of the sake connoisseur bloggers in Tokyo appears to have no problem getting or tasting these cult sakes, however. Some time ago, I found one of the Juyondai sake listed on the website of the "Sakaya" of New York. I ordered it on-line and then promptly got a phone call from them saying that it had been sold out almost as soon as they received it. I asked them to contact me as soon as the Juyonday came in next time. A few months later, I got a phone call from Sakaya saying that they had received the shipment. I wanted to order a few bottles but was told there was a limit of one per customer. So, I got one bottle of Juyondai 十四代 along with Isojiman 磯自慢 and Kokuryu 黒龍.
There are so many different kinds of small batch brews under the name "Juyondai" which were brewed by Takagi sake brewery in Yamagata 山形県高木酒造. It  appears that they do not have their own website (I suppose there is no need to advertise). The one I happened to get this time is "bessen junmai-ginjou"  別撰 純米吟醸 made from "Banshu Yamada-nishiki" 播州山田錦, based on the name, I assume it was made from Yamada-nishiki rice grown in a part of Hyougo 兵庫 prefecture. Obviously, this might not have been one of the better brews by Takagi brewery but this is what was available. I had it shipped, while the weather was not too hot, overnight from New York and promptly refrigerated it upon receipt.

To pay adequate respect to this sake, I ordered toro, amaebi and uni from Catalina. The first night, after we accumulated all these ingredients for a blow-out gourmet experience, was a Friday.  Since we did not have time for proper preparation and to ease ourselves into the over indulgence, we did not bust into the Juyondai but opened Isojiman instead. We had it with some toro sashimi, uni and amaebi. Isojiman is a nice sake with a fruity crispness but not much of an umami component. Nonetheless this meal presaged good things to come. 

The next day was devoted to anticipation of the full-fledged feast we were planning for the evening. The center piece was, of course the sake complemented with excellent sashimi. The toro was blue fine tuna, chu-toro bordering on Ootoro, and was melt-in-your mouth excellent. I also made an "flower arrangement" of Ko-toro or slightly fatty tuna. The uni was plump luscious golden California uni and it was wonderful as usual.  

Since some of the amaebi was big, I made my usual ceviche, this time with lime juice and yuzu juice from the bottle mixed with soy sauce and real wasabi. I added slices of drunken tomato, Champagne mango cubes, and garnished it with "ume-su" 梅酢 seasoned daikon slices cut in a cherry blossom shape.

Of course, I had to serve fried amaebi heads. This cannot go wrong

Juyondai is indeed an excellent sake. It showed clean crisp tastes with hints of green apple and melon with a light umami component. But in my book, this does not justify the price and the difficulty of getting it. Other more readily available sakes such as our house sake Yaegaki "mu", which is a simpler sake, has a better PQR. Others, for example, Muromachi jidai 室町時代 is in a lower price range and has a more complex umami component than the Juyondai jungin we tasted here. Even Kokuryu which is not as fruity and crisp has more "umami". This is non-issue since it is next to impossible to get Juyondai and even Muromachi-jidai (except in a restaurant such as Sushi Taro) is not readily available here. Having said that, I will be "standing in line" to get other Juyondai brews if one becomes available.  I do not think the chance of this happening is particularly good, so, most likely, we have to wait until we visit Japan next time. 

This was a particularly memorable meal. In fact it bordered on being too much of a good thing but we thoroughly enjoyed it!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fava beans, grilled and boiled 焼きそら豆、茹でそら豆

We love the Asakusa 浅草 area of Tokyo. On one of our visits to Asakusa long ago, we stumbled into a small izakaya run by a husband and wife team. Beside ourselves, there were only two other customers at the counter--a past-middle-aged couple, clearly not husband and wife, but having fun talking, eating and drinking. It happened to be fava bean season or "sora-mame" そら豆. They ordered up a dish of the beans. We overheard (no not overheard that implies we were intruding, they were actually over talking) about how good the beans were. We had never seen them before and asked what they were. They generously offered us a taste. We agreed with their assessment and promptly order a dish for ourselves. It was indeed very good. Sora-mame is quintessential Izakaya food usually served simply boiled with a side of salt.

In the U.S., the easiest way to get fava beans is to buy a package of frozen sora-mame in a Japanese grocery store. They are not bad but usually a bit too mushy. Occasionally, while in season, we can get fresh fava beans in a pod from a near-by gourmet market. To choose which pods to buy, I press the pods between my fingers lightly to make sure there are beans inside. Some pods may look big and luxurious from outside but may not contain many beans.

I tried making them both grilled in the pod (in a toaster oven on "high" broil for 10 minutes turning once until the surface of the pods develops blotches of brown) and boiled (beans removed from the pods and boiled for 5 minutes in salted water). To us, there is no big difference in taste and consistency but we have not yet tried grilling fava beans in the pod on a charcoal fire, which may make a difference.

We like to peel the skin from the beans just before eating (the quintessential finger food) (see image on the left) and eat it with just a touch of salt (literally, we use Kosher salt with larger crystals).

Digression alert: Fava beans contain several pharmacologically active substances which may have some health effects on people with certain conditions. The most famous is "favism" in which an individual with the genetically inherited enzyme difficiency (G6PD deficiency) can have serious hemolytic anemia after consuming fava beans. Another is the interaction of the ingredients in fava beans with MAO-inhibitors. Among people taking  MAO-inhibitors (probably to treat depression), eating fava beans (or certain aged cheeses) may produce a hypertensive episode called "cheese effect". Fava beans also contain L-dopa, (a substance used to treat Parkinson's) although the health effects of the L-dopa found in fava beans may not be significant. So, before you order up "sora-mame", make sure you do not have G6PD deficiency or you are not taking a MAO-inhibitor. Consuming a large amount of "sora-mame" at Izakaya in an attempt to treat your Parkinson's disease is also not recommended. Please seek the professional advice of an appropriate specialist.

Fortunately, we do not have any of these restrictions and simply enjoy "sora-mame". It will go with any drink but sake is the best match for us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fresh corn pudding 新鮮コーンのプディング

My wife made this dish. It's a very simple dish but extremely good to make when fresh corn on the cob is available. Fresh corn has been available in the local grocery store for a few weeks (Late April and May). We are not sure where it comes from--we surmised Florida, certainly not locally grown.

Freshly picked corn is very sweet but it is my understanding that soon after harvest, the sugar  in the corn converts back to starch resulting in a far less pleasant product referred to as "starchy" corn. I had a friend who loved corn and used to have "corn parties". He would plant a patch of corn so that it ripened in sections over the course of a season. When a section was ready to harvest he invited some friends over and had a party. The purpose of the party was to eat the corn at the height of its perfection. After some libations and socializing, the guests retreated to the corn patch where they harvested their own dinner. Everyone came back to the house where a large pot of boiling, salted water was ready and waiting. The rest was simple--shuck, boil, eat and enjoy. The time between harvest and cooking was a max of 5 minutes. He was right; the corn was perfection. While we can't have such "corn parties", this corn pudding is next best thing.

My wife used a box grater to grate the corn kernels off the cob (They have to be grated. Cutting them off does not have the same effect). She then scraped the bare cobs with the back of a knife to make sure she captured any corn "milk" left behind. She then poured the grated mixture into a small ramekin like the one seen above. She did not add any seasoning or additional ingredients--it's all just corn. Believe it or not, the corn from two ears went into one small ramekin. She then simply baked this in a 350F toaster oven for 30 minutes.

Before serving she sprinkled some Kosher salt on top (the salt enhances the sweetness). This was so sweet and creamy--the essence of summer corn. Somehow grating the corn makes it sweeter. My wife tasted a kernel from this batch before grating it to see how it tasted and she said it was so-so. But then we tasted the grated mixture and it was suddenly much sweeter. Corn pudding is also much easier to eat than boiled corn on the cob; no kernels to stick between your teeth. This could be served as a vegetable side dish but we like it as a drinking snack. (You know our priorities). This will go with any drink; beer, wine, sake. My wife suggested it was sweet enough to be served as a dessert...but I'm not going there. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Miso grilled Spanish mackerel サバの味噌焼き

This is another dish I made from the Spanish mackerel I bought the other day. This is based on the recipe in a cook book called "the Japanese Grill" but it is a rather standard recipe.

Mackerel fillet: After removing the pin bones as before, I salted both sides of the fillet with Kosher salt. I wrapped it in kitchen parchment paper and then with a paper towel and placed it in a Ziploc bag overnight in the refrigerator. This process removes excess moisture. You could use a special wrapping sheet popular in Japan called "Picchito" ピッチト 食品脱水シート. Wrapping the fillet with this sheet will produce a similar effect without using salt. After 24 hours, the paper wrappings were moist indicating excess water indeed had been extracted. I wiped any remaining moisture from the surface of the fillet with a paper towel.

Miso marinade: As suggested in the recipe, I used sweet "saikyou" miso 西京味噌 (1/4 cup) but if you use regular white or red miso, you could add sugar. I added mirin (2-3 tbs) to the miso until a thick sauce consistency was reached. After I smeared the miso marinade on both sides of the fillet, I wrapped it with plastic wrap and put it back in the Ziploc bag. I marinaded it for 6 hours before grilling. The original recipe calls for 3 days of marination.

Grilling: I used a Weber grill with lump charcoal. As usual, I started the fire using a Charcoal starter chimney. I spread hot coals over only half of the grill to make hot and cool areas. After cleaning the grill, I sprayed Weber-brand grilling spray (this does not flare up even with hot coals underneath). I started the meat side down on the hot area of the grill for 2 minutes or so and flipped it over to grill the skin side for one to two more minutes. Because of the sugar content of the miso marinade, it is very easy to char the fish like I did here (image below right, but it still tasted good).  I moved the fillet to the cool side of the grill and put the lid on and finished cooking for 2-3 more minutes.

This is a rather classic but excellent preparation of mackerel. If has been a long time since we have had this kind of fish and taste, so we really savored it. The fish has a nice firm texture with a miso flavor. The charcoal grilling added to the flavor and it tasted even better the next day served cold. We'll be doing this one, again. I served it as a drinking snack with stewed sweet potato and azuki. For a drink, we are partial to sake for this dish and had "turbid" sake called Momokawa Organic Nigori from Sake One. This is not too sweet with a smooth rice residue (you do not have to chew the sake) and went well with this rustic grilled mackerel.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Sekihan", red rice 赤飯

As mentioned before,  I found Japanese red beans or azuki at a newly opened neighborhood gourmet grocery store. Despite the fact that I do not particularly care for it, I ended up making a rice dish called "sekihan" meaning "red rice". Japanese consider red an auspicious color especially in combination with white. Sekihan 赤飯 is the traditional celebratory food especially when served with a grilled whole Japanese red snapper or "tai" 鯛. In the old days, when you had something to celebrate in your family, you made sekihan in large quantity and distributed it to the neighbors and your friends. I do not remember my mother making sekihan when I was a kid. Maybe my family didn't follow this tradition (or perhaps, we did not have much to cerebrate). I do remember, however, we were often the recipient of sekihan.

For most of Japan, un-sweetened azuki is used to make sekihan.  In Hokkadio, where I originally came from (also reportedly in Yamanashi 山梨 and a part of Aomori 青森 prefectures), sekihan is often made with "ama-nattou" 甘納豆 which is types of beans cooked in and coated with sugar. Although it contains the word "nattou", this has nothing to do with natto that fermented, sticky and smelly soy bean every(no)body likes. These sweetened beans are usually eaten as "sweets" rather than used in cooking. It appears the inventor of this recipe is known and her recipe was popularized by the local Hokkaido Newspaper. (This was discussed in detail in a digital food column of Nippon Keizai Shinbun, in Japanese). People in the Kanto 関東 area (Tokyo area) supposedly prefer to use another kind of bean called "sasage" ささげ in leu of azuki. This is apparently a type of cowpea. I am only familiar with black-eyed pea in this category of beans/peas in the U.S. but I assume there must be red or brown colored varieties in Japan used in sekihan. I read that the reason Kantoites prefer not to use azuki is because azuki tends to rupture while cooking and for those who may have been samuri descendants, the  rupturing beans reminded them of "seppuku" or "harakiri" (they are so sensitive!). It is also common to use red food coloring especially for commercially prepared sekihan or the kind made using "ama-nattou"--to heighten the color of the commercial product and because ama-nattou does not color the rice. Anyhow, I decided to make the dish in the traditional way (for most of Japan) with azuki beans.

Azuki: I prepared azuki as posted before and set aside the cooking liquid and cooked beans before I sweetened the rest. I had about 1/2 cup each of cooked azuki and the cooking liquid. I separated the azuki and the cooking liquid and set aside. 

Rice: I used sweet or glutenous rice (1 and half cup) and regular Japanese short grain rice (half cup). I washed both together until the water became clear. I drained it and set it aside.

In an electric rice cooker, I added the washed rice and the azuki cooking liquid. I added water to the 2 cup mark. I added the cooked azuki. After the rice was cooked (image below left), I mixed the azuki and rice with a wood spatula called "hera" へら trying not to break the azuki.

I also made a traditional seasoning for sekihan called "gomashio" ごま塩.To enhance the flavor, I dry roasted black sesame seeds (2 tbs) with Kosher salt (1 tbs) in a dry flying pan (right image below).

I sprinkled gomashio over the sekihan and served. I do not think this is worth the effort but the roasted sesame and salt indeed added a lot.  The nutty and salty flavors were definitely needed here.  After making sekihan, I felt like, at least, I paid adequate respect to azuki beans and this is the last of my azuki dishes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spanish mackerel stewed in miso さばの味噌煮

Appropriate ingredients are the most important factor in making new and interesting dishes. At the newly opened gourmet grocery store, today's catch (whole fish selection) included some large Spanish mackerel and sardines. Although I was tempted to get the sardines or "iwashi" イワシ because I had some recipes I wanted to try, they looked like they had been in a bar fight the night before, and were much the worse for wear. So we got the Spanish mackerel. Again, it is difficult to compare the type of mackerel available in Japan vs. the ones available here.  The Spanish Mackerel we got was a bit over 4 lbs and was much larger than Japanese mackerel or まさば. The type of mackerel we call "Boston mackerel" here appears to be closer to Japanese mackerel. Size aside, these mackerels have characteristics similar to oily blue fish; nice firm reddish flesh and shiny silver blue-gray skin. They also have a rather strong taste and spoil very quickly. The classic Japanese preparation is to use miso when cooking mackerel.

Preparing mackerel: I had our Spanish mackerel filleted. I had to remove the small pin bones in the center line of the head portion of the fillet using a Japanese fish bone puller (I have one that I got from Global or you could use a needle nose pliers). Since the fish we got was rather large, I used one fillet for this miso stewed dish and the other for a miso grilled dish. I cut the fillet into half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into 2 inch wide pieces. I made shallow scores in the skin surface as well.

Simmering liquid: I combined dashi (200ml), mirin (4 tbs), sake (4 tbs), red miso (3 tbs) and sugar (2 tbs) in a frying pan. I also added ginger root (4 thin slices). After coming to the boil, I turned the heat down tasted it. I thought it was too strong and added more water and sake but, in retrospect, I should have left it alone.

I placed the prepared mackerel in the pan skin side up and also added segments of scallion all around. After coming back to boil, I turned the heat down to simmer, I put an otoshi-buta and a regular lid (askew) and simmered it for 15-20 minutes (see image below).

Since the miso mixture was still a bit runny, after I removed the fish, I reduced it a bit to make a thicker consistency.

To serve, I garnished it with thin threads of ginger ("hari-shouga" 針ショウガ) and scallion cut thinly along the long axis called "shiraga-negi" しらが葱 or white hair scallion. Since I do not have naganegi 長ネギ or Tokyo scallion, this was the best I could manage.

This is a classic and very comforting dish--perfect as an accompaniment for sake. Miso and mackerel are indeed a winning combination.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Stewed kabocha and red bean カボチャのいとこ煮

This is a variation on the theme of azuki dishes. Instead of sweet potatoes, Japanese squash or kabocha is used. This is sometimes called "Itoko-ni" いとこ煮 meaning "cousin stew" but why it is called that is not clear to me or if any stewed dishes with azuki would be called "Itoko-ni".

In any case, I do not think this is one of our favorite dishes. I cooked the kabocha exactly same as before. Toward the end of the cooking, I added cooked and unsweetened red beans and dissolved a small mount of miso paste to taste. This dish needs something more. Somehow unsweetened azuki does not work well here for us.

So I made another version few days later (image below). I added my version of slightly sweetened azuki instead. I also added a bit more miso at the end than before.  This tasted much better. The sweetness was contrasted with some nutty salty tastes. We liked this much better than the original version.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Marinated tuna "zuke" sashimi 鮪の漬け

I posted maguro-zuke to make a low-quality frozen saku of yellow-fin tuna palatable before. Of course, if you make "zuke" from good blue-fin tuna like I did here, it tastes even better. Since I happened to have Vidalia spring onion, which is extra mild and sweet, I also used that to served this zuke.

Marinade: I made some adjustment and used a more simple and less potent sake and soy sauce mixture (3 tbs each or 1:1 ratio) with the addition of grated ginger (1/2 tsp, I used grated ginger but you could add just the juice) and dry roasted (in a dry frying pan) white sesame seeds (1/2 tsp, coarsely ground in a Japanese mortar or in "suribachi" すり鉢). Compared to the original, I do not use any mirin and the amount of soy sauce is less.
Tuna: I used blue-fin tuna (slightly fatty or ko-toro 小トロ portion) which was from Catalina Offshore Porducts. I did the usual "yubiki" 湯引き process to make the surface of the tuna white (10 seconds in simmering water) and then cooled down immediately in ice water.

I sliced the tuna in rather thick pieces as seen above and marinated it in a flat sealable container in one layer for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.

To serve, I sliced Vidalia spring onion after halving it and placed the slices on the bottom of the plate, added a few strips of shaven carrot for color, surrounded that with sliced (on a slant) American mini cucumber. I drizzled the marinade and olive oil over them. Since I had daikon left after making a daikon garnish for sashimi the night before, I grated it and squeezed out the excess moisture, added yuzu juice and made a small mound in the center of the plate.

After removing the excess marinade from the "zuke" pieces, I arranged the slices around the grated daikon. I added a small dab of real wasabi on the side.  To eat, we put a bit of wasabi on the zuke slice, added some onion, carrot and cucumber slices on top. The tuna has a remarkable resemblance to good beef. The marinade did not make the tuna "slimy" but infused lots of flavors. The real wasabi is really not too hot like the "fake" kind but has a nice fresh wasabi flavor. Sweet Vidalia is also perfect with this combination. If you feel the zuke is a bit salty (not here though) or regradless, you could add yuzu infused grated daikon on the top as well. This proves that if you make zuke from good tuna, the end result is better. For a drink, there is not much choice--it has to be cold sake.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Simmered sweet potato and azuki beans さつまいもとあずきの煮付け

Because our new grocery store had raw azuki beans, I made several dishes with them. Here is the first sort of savory dish which can be served as a vegetable side dish.

There is some confusion regarding sweet potato and yam especially in North America. As far as I can tell the ones available in North America, either white or orange varieties, are sweet potatoes. The orange variety are frequently referred to as "yams" which appears to be a misnomer. True "yams" are reportedly botanically different from sweet potatoes. In any case, the potato I bought for this dish is the orange variety and is similar to Japanese "satusma-imo".

I simply peeled and cut the sweet potatoes (3) into half inch thick half moon shaped pieces and simmered in dashi broth just enough to cover (I guess about 200ml. I took a shortcut and used instant granulated dashi). I tested for to see if they were done by piercing with a bamboo stick after 15-20 minutes. I seasoned them with mirin (2 tbs), soy sauce (3 tbs) and sugar (1 tbs) and further simmer for several minutes. I added slightly sweetened cooked azuki beans (if using canned cooked azuki, use the unsweetened variety) and let them warm up for another 4 minutes.

It is a bit sweet but very mildly so. The combination of slightly sweetened azuki beans and sweet poteto is excellent. Can this be a drinking snack? Possibly, but I have to say I would probably have something else with a drink.